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AAMC Chair and President Call on the Nation’s Medical Schools and Teaching Hospitals to Address Health Care Inequalities

Baltimore, Md., November 8, 2015—In addresses at the 126th annual meeting of the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), Board Chair Peter L. Slavin, MD, and AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD, told the leaders of the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals that "crossing the inequality chasm" is imperative if America is to achieve better health for all.

"Equity has too often been overlooked or politicized, instead of being treated as a defining test of whether we’re meeting our responsibility to deliver quality care to everyone who needs it," Slavin said to nearly 3,000 meeting attendees. "The simple truth is that we cannot achieve quality without addressing inequality."

Slavin, who is president of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, cited studies illustrating disparities in treatment and outcomes between white and minority patients. These disparities are exacerbated by the conscious and unconscious biases of health care professionals, coupled with the fear of bias by patients, which leads to a mistrust of doctors, he said.

"In order to live up to our oath to 'do no harm,' we must first take a hard look at where we’re falling short," Slavin continued. "Health care providers need to ask themselves, 'Is there something we all could have done to help this person before they came through the doors of our hospital?'" he said. "Targeting inequality actually raises the quality of care for everyone."

Slavin urged medical schools and teaching hospitals to hold themselves publicly accountable for health care equality by making their data and outcome information transparent and introducing interventions when disparities are identified, as MGH has done. Making health care more inclusive also involves increasing the diversity of health care providers. "A more just health care system depends upon us building a more diverse talent pipeline through our medical schools and training our students to think more broadly about these issues," said Slavin.

Kirch noted how the gap between the haves and have-nots in America has deepened and stressed that it is critical to address these inequalities now in the midst of the resulting violence and unrest the nation has seen this year. "Confronted with the scientific evidence that social inequities lead to poorer health outcomes, we have a clear ethical obligation, as health professionals, to address this issue."

While the Affordable Care Act has made health insurance available to millions of previously uninsured or underinsured Americans, people without transportation to a doctor or the ability to navigate the health care system still fall through the cracks.

The emergency rooms at teaching hospitals are a safety net for the poor, uninsured, and the undocumented, Kirch said, but that care often comes too late. "[Patients] already have missed opportunities for prevention, early intervention, and promotion of good health." People with mental illness, correctional populations, the LGBT community, and members of the military and veterans also are facing health disparities, Kirch added.

The AAMC will continue its advocacy efforts around NIH funding and increased funding for residency positions to address inequity on a national level, Kirch said. He also praised the many academic medical institutions that have launched innovative outreach programs in poor communities and studies to reduce health care disparities. But he called on everyone working for medical schools and teaching hospitals today to look at their individual roles in academic medicine through a health equity lens.

The inequality chasm looms large, and the health of too many people hangs in the balance, Kirch concluded. "Over the coming year, as political battles and partisan spin escalate, more than ever, we will need to ignore the noise and maintain focus on bridging the inequality chasm."

View the full text  of the address by AAMC Chair Peter Slavin, MD, "Toward a More Just Society and Health Care System."

View the full text  of the address by AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD, "Crossing the Inequality Chasm."

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The Association of American Medical Colleges is a not-for-profit association dedicated to transforming health care through innovative medical education, cutting-edge patient care, and groundbreaking medical research. Its members comprise all 147 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools; nearly 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems, including 51 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers; and more than 80 academic societies. Through these institutions and organizations, the AAMC serves the leaders of America’s medical schools and teaching hospitals and their nearly 160,000 faculty members, 83,000 medical students, and 115,000 resident physicians. Additional information about the AAMC and its member medical schools and teaching hospitals is available at www.aamc.org.

Contact

Susan Beach   
202-828-0983
sbeach@aamc.org


Address from AAMC Chair and President at Learn Serve Lead 2015


AAMC Chair's Address 2015